Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy is just a couple of days away from its Japanese release, but western fans will have to wait a couple of months longer.
Yet, I was able to put my greedy paws upon a preview build of the PC version of the game, and I have to say that it was a pleasure to reconnect with Ryza and her friends.
This is the first time an Atelier game spawns a direct sequel that retains the same protagonist, so it’s a rare and rather relevant experiment for Gust.
That being said, considering Ryza’s popularity, it’s also pretty much a safe bet. She is by far my favorite Atelier heroine, and she has not lost any of her charms.
As a matter of fact, given the timeframe set three years after the first game, she has become even more relatable, and the same can be said about her returning friends.
The members of the cast of the first game have grown and (mostly) matured, and this is a relevant theme in Atelier Ryza 2, which aims to portray the changes we all go through when we leave behind our teen years to finally take on the responsibilities of adults.
While the depiction of this transition is certainly colored with the Japanese views on what it entails (this is most definitely a Japanese game, after all), it’s certainly a theme that western fans can easily connect to as well.
It’s actually something that isn’t often portrayed this openly in fantasy JRPGs, as more often than not, it’s at least partly hidden behind metaphorical struggles. Prepare to witness our heroes as they worry about having to find a job to pay rent or facing their responsibilities not only to friends and family, but also to society. It certainly feels refreshing and interesting.
While there have been mechanical changes from the first game, adding depth to the battle system and to alchemy, those who have played Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout will likely feel right at home. The new mechanics mostly expand on the old without revolutionizing them.
Combat definitely feels quick and more dynamic, achieving a great balance between turns and a faster-paced approach.
An interesting addition comes in the form of several methods of traversal like a rope that lets you jump around chasms Indiana Jones style. I’m guessing the development team added them to enhance the sense of adventure and exploration. It’s a successful attempt, at least in part.
The one issue with said sense of exploration is that locations are still split into multiple smaller areas, and this certainly appears to be a relic of the past. A dungeon that isn’t even that large cut into pieces divided by loading screens definitely feels a bit out of place in 2020, especially on PC and PS5.
I’m guessing this helps running the game on weaker platforms, but in an industry in which even the Switch can run some open-world games, you’d expect it to be able to at least load a whole dungeon of this size without excessive issues.
The visual style is another element that will certainly prove familiar for the fan of the first game.
The graphics certainly aren’t a miracle (but the Atelier series has never been about pure visual spectacle, so there’s no surprise here) and many animations outside of battle are a bit rough around the edge. Yet, the world and its inhabitants still manage to be colorful and enjoyable, especially thanks to the day/night cycle that bathes everything in ever-changing light.
One of Atelier Ryza 2’s strongest suites remains its art. Toridamono’s character design is absolutely a gift that keeps on giving, and I can declare without a doubt that by slightly aging his designs (like a fine wine), he managed to abundantly surpass the already delightful style of the original Atelier Ryza.
Of course, you can’t have a good JRPG without a good story, and what I have played so far was certainly worthy of the Atelier legacy, supported by interesting themes that go well beyond the simple “adventure,” and by a cast of characters who remain cute and likable but show true progression while they leave their childhood behind to become adult men and women.
While the Jury will stay out for a couple of months longer, at least for English speakers, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy appears to be a worthy sequel of one of the most beloved and successful games of the series. I would certainly not be shocked if it manages to surpass the original.